127-year-old steam car still running

The oldest known working car in the world has sold for $4.6 million at an auction in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The vehicle was made in 1884 and runs on steam.

The car was actually made a year before the first experimental design of what we’d now recognize as a petrol engine, which featured in cars built by Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler.

Instead this French vehicle, officially titled De Dion-Bouton et Trepardouz, runs on steam produced by burning wood, coal or even paper. It takes around 30 to 45 minutes to fire up, but can then travel at peaks of 38 miles per hour. However, after around 20 miles you’ll need to fill up — not on gas, but on water.

It’s arguably the design rather than the propulsion technology that made the vehicle so effective. The four-wheel set-up with the engine at the front and seats at the back solved the problem of accommodating a small-but-powerful engine without the vehicle either exploding or tipping over. Aside from the disparity in size between the larger front wheels (which steer) and the smaller back wheels (which drive), it’s effectively the same basic design used for virtually all cars today.

The car, nicknamed La Marquise, was the only vehicle entered in what was billed as the first formal motor car race, averaging 16 mph on a Paris-Versailles-Paris route. The following year it saw off a challenger and upped its average speed to 18 mph. After being restored in 1987, the car completed four runs in the annual London-Brighton race, most recently in 1996.

It’s been sold several times, the last being in 2008 for around $3.5 million. Auctioneers had expected it to go for considerably less than that this time round, but an anonymous bidder took the car for $4.6 million.

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